Tuesday, August 14, 2007

the secret history of Betty Davis 

Betty Davis and her 'fro

listen to the lady herself


If ever there were a good reason for this site to lurch back from the dead for the gazillionth time, it would be the revitalization of my ongoing relationship with the admirable Tuwa and his Shanty. Tuwa drops by the Hut today to grace us with some knowledge and hot traxx from funk goddess Betty Davis. Show him some love in the comments section and who knows? Maybe we could even see more of him in the future.

Betty Davis -- If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up

Betty Davis -- Shoo-B-Doop and Cop Him

Miles Davis divorced Betty because she was too wild. She's known for that and less for her music, which is a shame, and even less for her cooking, which is another. Between living in New York and living in Pittsburgh she used to have this restaurant in New Orleans, a hole-in-the-wall, dive-looking place that paid okay but cooked even better. It specialized in soul food: hush puppies, collard greens, fried chicken so greasy you couldn't lift the napkins off the table without help, you know the scene. That was where she worked after her first couple of records: they were some real hot stuff, sassy and in your face, hot like I said, hot like you'd expect today from Macy Gray or somebody but funky too like P-Funk and Sly Stone. Those were good albums but didn't get much attention, and Betty, she just figured hell with it and set up her restaurant. She did what she wanted to do and then she wanted to do something else. If you haven't heard 'em, well, I'll tell you something more about her cooking and that'll tell you about the music.

This restaurant started to get a reputation for itself, till one day this music critic from New York came in after one of the concerts--Irma Thomas and Allen Touissaint and Eddie Bo, that crew. Betty'd gone down and performed a couple of songs with them even though she didn't fit in too well, and then she came back to take the meatloaf and cornbread out of the oven even though I could have managed it just as well like on any other day. She seemed peevish about something, on edge, so I just ducked my head and tended to my tables. And the place was starting to fill up when this dandified critic walked in, cutting early from the concert, and ordered a reuben. Betty told me later he'd been standing there near the front row with his notebook out, and I guess that's what got under her skin. He didn't help things coming in later asking for a reuben.

"A reuben," she said.
"Yes, I think I'd like a reuben."
"You came into a soul food restaurant and ordered a reuben."
"Do you know how to make a reuben?"
By now Betty had her head back and one hand on her hip. "Do I know how to make a reuben? Hmph. Oh, you'll have your reuben." Then to me: "Jimmy, go get some some Swiss cheese and some rye bread." And back to the critic: "you want something to eat until then?"

So I went off to the grocery down the street and came back, and Betty buttered a plate and sliced the bread and took some corned beef she'd intended for a hot hash and she put it on one slice on some Swiss cheese, and put some Thousand Island on the other. And she put the two sides together and brought it out to the critic like that and set it across the table from him and he just looked at it.

"Not yet," she said. She was wearing this short tight skirt and a form-fitting blouse--she liked to advertise herself a bit, you know--and she had an afro in those days with some hoop earrings, and she sat at the counter catty-cornered from the critic and his sandwich, her elbows back on the counter with her legs crossed, one foot bobbing absently like she was still listening to Eddie Bo play an encore. She had her chin back a bit, her dander up, you know, and she turned her head slowly, giving that critic and his sandwich a look like you wouldn't believe. And the butter began to sizzle and the cheese began to melt and that poor fella had to loosen his tie. And shortly she took a spatula off the hanger and got up and flipped that sandwich, and when it was over she took the sandwich off one plate and put it on another and pushed it over to him and said, very sweetly, "careful, honey, this sandwich is still hot."

And he just said "yes'm" and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. When the sandwich was gone he had another glass of tea in a hurry, and left a good tip.

I guess he went off and wrote his article, but whatever it said, Betty didn't go back into the studio. Like I said, she did what she wanted and then she did something else. The food's long gone but at least we have the music still.

[Betty Davis @ amazon.com, or @ emusic.com]
[They Say I'm Different @ amazon, @ emusic.com]
[A non-fiction Betty Davis bio]

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